LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–The promise of partnership was evident at the second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church as politicians from both parties gathered at Saddleback Church in Southern California to show their support of the evangelical church rising up to help stop the pandemic.
Spearheaded by Rick Warren, pastor of the 25-year-old church in Lake Forest, and his wife Kay, the two-day “Race Against Time” summit was attended by more than 2,000 lay leaders, pastors, health officials and government officials from 165 organizations and from 178 churches representing 39 states and 18 countries.
“We’ve got to work together where we can work together,” Warren said before introducing Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill., who supports many issues Warren opposes including abortion and, in the case of HIV/AIDS, condom distribution as a way to stop the spread of the disease that has killed millions.
“Right wing, left wing. I’m for the whole bird,” said Warren, smiling, on the last day of the conference, which featured Obama and Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
“You have to have two wings to fly. When I thought of all the men I knew in Congress and the Senate, and believe me there were more who wanted to come [to the conference], I thought of Sen. Obama and Sen. Brownback for three specific reasons,” Warren said, citing “their integrity, their civility even when they disagree and their openness to learning and listening.”
“It’s pretty rare in Washington, D.C,” he said. “I intentionally brought people together from healthcare, activism, religion and government. We’re looking for a culture of civility. Frankly, I’m tired of partisan bickering.”
If he and his wife only worked with people they completely agreed with on everything, they would never work with anyone, Warren said at a news conference during the summit.
“We will never totally agree with everyone, I don’t even always agree 100 percent with my wife,” he said. “But we can work together with anyone who is willing to work on this issue.”
Both senators cited their faith in Jesus Christ as a moving force in their choice to combat HIV/AIDS and both are willing to cross partisan lines to do so.
“For [to] whom much is given, much is required,” said Brownback, who took Bob Dole’s seat in the Senate. “We need to reach across the aisles and engage.”
Both senators underscored the amount of help needed after visiting Darfur, Uganda and other African countries that have been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS crisis.
After the two senators spoke at the news conference, they sat next to Warren and took an AIDS test, which required a medical professional to swab the inside of their mouths.
Others attending the conference were offered free HIV testing on the church campus “not because they are unsure of their status, but to reduce the stigma associated with the disease,” Kay Warren said.
Birthed in her heart three years ago, she said her journey into AIDS awareness began with a magazine article that shocked her with statistics and photographs.
More than 25 million people have died from the aggressive disease, which has ravaged Africa, India and China, largely through heterosexual transmission, and continues to grow in the United States, largely through homosexual encounters.
Rick Warren challenged every pastor to be tested.
“Unless you do, you’re in the dark and if you’re in the dark, then you’re in denial,” said Warren, who compares the church’s involvement in the AIDS crisis as the third leg of a three-leg stool.
Obama told the conference, “The resources of governments may be vast, and the good works of philanthropists may be abundant, but we should never underestimate how powerful the passion of people of faith can be in eradicating this disease.”
Mark Dybul, an open homosexual who holds ambassador status as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, noted, “The church has always been involved — but not in AIDS prevention. And those in AIDS prevention didn’t reach out to the church.”
Not only do churches need to participate in the prevention and care of HIV, but also in the souls of those with the disease, said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association who spoke after the senators.
“It’s not a subject easy to talk about, there are people in this business we don’t particularly like, but we work together for a common cause to save lives,” Graham said. “Forty-something million people are infected with HIV…. I heard President Clinton at a fundraiser tell in the next 10 years there will be 100 million infections.
“This doesn’t increase the death rate,” Graham said. “The Bible says each of us is appointed a day to die. I look at this field and see it’s a harvest field, millions of people without hope who need to know God loves them.
“This AIDS business is serious business. The only way this can be defeated is through Jesus Christ changing a human heart. There are no cures on the horizon. There are only drugs that can help you live a little longer. It’s through Jesus Christ alone. It’s not going to be politicians, rock stars or celebrities who solve this issue. It’s going to be Jesus,” Graham said.
Throughout the conference the Warrens taught on how churches can raise up HIV/AIDS programs in their communities and meet the needs of those who suffer from the disease.
Via video, Laura Bush, Bono and Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., commended the Warrens on their efforts and encouraged churches to become more involved in fighting the epidemic.
“For the first time in 20 years, we have the right people with the right motivation, we can do this because of who we are, God’s people,” said Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry based in Colorado Springs. “I’m here to tell you, someone who’s been around it for 30 years, we have come so far.”
Several students from California Baptist University attended the summit in hopes of gleaning ideas to take back to their campus in Riverside.
“We want to be apart of the solution,” said Amy Boyd, 20, a junior sociology major, who traveled to Rwanda earlier this year on a missions team. “We want to catch the attention of the students and get them involved in fighting this crisis too.”
Boyd is one of the coordinators for the campus’ Active Compassion group that is considering offering free HIV testing on campus next year.
“Yes, it’s controversial,” Boyd said. “But we want to capture the students’ attention and get them passionate about what is going on in Africa. Many of them think it’s Africa’s problem, [but] that’s not what the Bible says.”
Kay Warren explained the steps that churches and other organizations can take to crawl, walk and run in their ministry to HIV victims.
A crawl step would be to send cards to HIV patients, she explained. A walk step would be to start an HIV/AIDS support group and a run step would be to have testing on your campus or go as a group together and take the test.
“When the church is involved, we have hope,” Kay Warren said. “We grieve for those who have died, but we have hope.”